One of the things I aspire to is to peel away the hard shell I’ve formed. This is the first part in the story of how that shell was formed.
I can vaguely recall a time when I honestly believed people were basically good. That time has long since passed. I also very clearly remember truly believing 99% of what people told me because, after all, I wouldn’t lie to people, so why would they lie to me?
There are three people who changed my view and turned me into the distrustful cynic I am now. Josh’s mother, Lee, my boss at the TV station in Oklahoma, Chuck, and a former co-worker of mine, whom I’ll call Almond Joy…flaky and nuts. I met them in that order.
In 1994 I was 24 years-old and living in that mecca of entertainment, Enid, Oklahoma. I answered an ad for a video camera operator and editor, and went to work for Lee. We shot commercials for local businesses and created video yearbooks for some of the local schools. She got me involved with the local cable access station. We produced lots of programming for them and spent a great deal of time in their studios. Lee and I hit it off immediately, and I was sympathetic to her story. She spoke of her now-deceased ex-husband, and how he had stolen her three children from her when they were babies, whisked away in the middle of the night. They were raised to hate her, she said, and had been told she was dead. It was only her determination and love as a mother that reunited them upon her ex-husband’s death, but her children were ungrateful and hateful to her now. At least, that’s the story she told.
I can’t remember how long I bought into it, but I do remember when it started to fall apart. I met her kids. They were 20, 19, and 17. I was taken aback at first, for they were nothing like she had described. I thought nothing of it at first. But as I got to know them, I heard their life story from their point of view, and it was different than the yarn spun by Lee. It’s not unusual for people to remember the same events differently, so I started paying closer attention.
I started to notice a pattern. Lee and I would be out somewhere and something of note would happen, then we’d return to the studio to edit, and I’d listen to her retell the story to one of our friends. Only she’d “embellish”. She’d revise the story with facts that didn’t happen, or make herself the center of the story when she had not been, either by making herself more heroic or more sympathetic, depending on the audience. She would relate these fabrications right in front of me, even though I had been a witness to the event, without the slightest bit of shame, or even acknowledgement that she was lying through her teeth. I came to realize, she did that a lot. She was my first pathological liar. He ex-husband had not stolen her kids from her, she had abandoned them when they were in diapers. They had not been told she was dead, she was living in Florida, having gone there after having convinced a small health clinic that she was a doctor. The kids still had the name badges she had made for herself that had her name with “MD” behind them. They still had a copy of the letter she had sent the clinic. She was living her carefree life, sailing off the waters of Florida, when her ex-husband died in a construction accident on the job. Suddenly, the kids needed her. And she needed to be their guardian in order to spend the insurance benefits they received. She took their money and bought a 27 foot sloop, a sailboat she docked in Kaw lake, outside Ponca City, Oklahoma. She moved those three kids and herself onto that boat, and that’s where they lived, I don’t recall for how long. She worked the odd job now and then, but largely the family lived off the insurance.
Years later, part of Josh’s treatment involved drawing pictures of the events in his life that led him down the path he was on. He was to draw his life as it was, and his life as it should have been. He drew a picture of his father’s funeral, and of he and his siblings riding along in his mother’s SUV, the windows rolled up and the car filled with her pot smoke. His drawings of what his life should have been was dramatically different. As I got to know the kids, Josh and I started to fall for each other. By that time, I had realized I needed to withdraw from Lee’s life as much as possible. Nothing she said could be trusted. Even decades later, I’m still discovering her lies. By the time Josh committed suicide, she and I hardly saw each other. She only saw Josh every month or so. That day, we all gathered at her house. She was sitting in the center of the room, crying without tears. She lamented on and on about losing her baby boy, and turned to her daughter, her youngest, and proclaimed, “you will have to take his place in my life”. The more she went on and on, as though she were June Cleaver who now had to bury the Beaver, I lost it. I lunged at her, shouting, “You only saw him once a month!” My mother, who had been visiting that weekend and was there when I got the call, had to hold me back from hitting her. She and Lee’s husband, Ronnie, escorted me to another room to calm down. Ronnie was very sweet and did his best to comfort me, a fact which infuriated Lee all the more. This was her moment to shine, and he and everyone else better damn well pay attention to her. I left her house that day, not to see her again for a year.
I couldn’t bring myself to go to Josh’s funeral, especially after learning that she’d ask the family drug dealer to be a pallbearer. Whether you believe in god or karma, he/it was at work that day, for the drug dealer’s car broke down, and he was unable to carry Josh’s casket. My good friend Christine went in my place, a sweet, thoughtful Jehovah’s Witness I had come to know and love.
I had been laid off work two days before his death, so it was decided I’d go back to San Antonio to recover. When Lee found out, she left a note on my door, proclaiming me a traitor and that I was abandoning her. She referenced herself 16 times in that letter. She referenced Josh twice.
It was later I found out the events of Josh’s last night. He arrived with his mother at his brother’s house, wreaking of marijuana. Because, you know, pot is the best medicine for a teenage schizophrenic checking out of a mental health/substance abuse facility. Mother knows best. His mother proclaimed him a burden, and left him there. He left no note, so I can only assume he saw no hope. I realize now that he was doomed, no matter what. All he’d ever known in his life was loss, drugs, and dysfunction. Though he lived with his brother and paternal grandmother (the “normal” ones), the rest of his life was filled with alcoholics and drug addicts, and people that didn’t truly care for him. I, myself, was on the edge, exhausted and heartbroken from months of dealing with his addiction and mental health issues.
In Texas, I found some relief, up until the night I got drunk and swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills. Amazingly, I survived, though I was very sick all weekend. That Monday, the mailman brought with him a letter from Lee. My mother, who at that point thought I had simply gotten very, very drunk, had asked my brother to stay with me that day, to keep an eye on me. He was the one who opened the letter. He didn’t let me read it, though he did show me the bottom of the last page, where Lee and her family had signed the letter, their affirmation of their hatred for me. Note to narcissistic pathological liars: when forging your families’ names on a letter, be sure to spell their names correctly. Months later I read the letter myself, and it was full of the easily verifiable lies I had become accustomed to from her. Christine hated me. “Stacey” hated me. The most insulting one was that the sole reason Josh killed himself was because he wanted to break up with me and I wouldn’t let him. Far more insulting to Josh than to me.
When I moved back to Oklahoma, I worked with Josh’s brother to make a PSA about Josh and drugs. It ran on the tv station I worked for. Lee called me up at work to scream at me, again proclaiming that everyone in her family now hated me, and how dare I make that PSA. Her lies were deflated a bit when I explained that I had the full blessing of other members of her family, including the ones who had given me the pictures used in the PSA. She started driving past my house at all hours, as noted by the sheriff’s deputies I lived next door to. By that time, the curtain was in complete tatters. I no longer believed in the Wizard, and came to realize that Lee had a reputation in this town of 45,000. That she had aliases, and had been telling whoppers since childhood, even managing to fool a local reporter once into thinking she was training for the Olympics as a runner. Years later, when she heard from her daughter-in-law (my good friend, yet one of the people Lee tried to convince me hated me) that I was moving to California, she, quite shockingly, stated, “Good. She’ll be successful there, she deserves happiness”. Stacy and I both knew all Lee had done to me, and were blown away by this new standard of self-deception. Lee actually believed we were still friends.
I’m still friends with Josh’s brother. We chat on Facebook now and again. He’s tried calling me a few times. I love him and want nothing but the best for him, but I feel it necessary to keep him at arms length. I fear letting him too far into my life will invite the crazy back. I pray he’s got a healthy relationship with his mother now (read: a non-existent one).
Lee was my first lesson in betrayal. The first person to teach me the lesson that not all people are honest. Or even sane, for that matter. You would think that lesson would have been enough. It wasn’t.